When I was kid, I was rarely more excited by Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends than when the X-Men would guest-star. They made it into a number of episodes in various incarnations, but only once did they merit the title: “The X-Men Adventure”. This little number is a fond memory, rendered all the more fun because my 4-year-old refuses to let it off the DVR.
How’s that? Well, recall that the networks on Disney have rerun rights to much of the ‘80s and ‘90s Marvel animated fare. “Amazing Friends” originally ran on NBC in the early ‘80s, and it possesses all of the charm and goofiness that the time entailed. Last summer, we recorded this episode from the network that became DisneyXD, and it holds a high place in Connor’s heart. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the nostalgia of it myself.
On the upside, the episode features appearances by Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Professor X, Kitty Pryde (using the Sprite handle for this outing) and . . . Thunderbird?!?! That’s right; long-dead Thunderbird appears here instead of Wolverine or Angel (both previously featured in the episode “A Firestar in Born”). When it opens, Firestar is getting punked in the Danger Room. The Amazing Friends and X-Men have dinner, and Spidey indicates that he wants a crack at it, too. Alas, the X-Mansion’s systems have been taken over by . . .THAROK OF THE FATAL FIVE!
Time out! That’s not Tharok; he just looks EXACTLY LIKE THAROK. That’s actually Cyberiad. Who, you ask? Cyberiad was Firestar’s first love, Nathan, from when she a college student in California (a time period that was never mentioned in either “A Firestar is Born” or “The Origin of the Spider-Friends”, by the way). She was helping him in experiments until A.I.M. screwed them up, and half of his body was destroyed. He blamed her, and apparently went to the Fatal Five Finishing School after the fact.
Funny Side Note: When we were watching this once, I cracked that Nathan was on his way to find the nearest local evil scientist. After the episode, Connor wanted to know which mad scientist, thinking that it would be cool if it were MODOK because the guys from A.I.M. ruined the experiment. Dad was quite proud.
Much of the (unintentional) hilarity of this episode revolves around the heroes trying to reach Cyberiad. He’s controlling the Mansion from the attic, and as such is making the house attack the characters with various devices. Part of the huge fun here is the notion that the X-Men would live alongside these devices on a daily basis. “Scott! Bring the keys! Kitty accidentally locked herself in the Vibranium room again!” I also love that in the comics at the time, the attic was where Storm lived with her plants; here, it’s an apparent computer lab situated just beyond THE MAZE OF MADNESS. More on that later.
There are some positive writing and plotting points. Character names are used frequently, and care is taken to refer to the X-Men by their real names more than once. When a hologram of Colossus tricks Kitty, she later says, “I knew Peter Rasputin would never be that mean.” While it’s funny to hear her use the full name there, it’s actually quite clever in terms of making sure that the kids watching get the facts.
Nothing, however, tops my favorite moment. Confronted with an obstacle that requires physical strength, Thunderbird calls on the Great Spirit and turns into a bear! Perhaps they were trying to equal Apache Chief in the Stereotype Olympics. When I was a kid, I knew that was bogus. Now it reminds me of the great bit from the Buffy episode “Pangs” wherein Spike screams, “A BEAR! YOU MADE A BEAR!” and I dissolve into laughter.
I also have to admire the craziness of the Maze of Madness, a surrealist landscape that dwells between the top floor and the attic. Why does someone put that in their house?! It certainly prevents the attic from being useful storage space; you have to negotiate Dali-town to get there.
Eventually, Firestar is the last person standing, and she defeats Cyberiad in a face-to-face confrontation. It’s actually a rather touching, and vaguely depressing, ending for the episode, as Firestar acknowledges that it is possible to fall all the way out of love from your first romance.
Though no one is ever going to accuse “Amazing Friends” of being the best cartoon ever, it was great fun at the time and is pretty safe for my younglings to watch. Connor’s seen the ‘90s X-Men, and watches Wolverine and the X-Men religiously, and yet he himself never makes a detrimental note about the older shows. He enjoys them all, wholly and unreservedly. And you know? He digs “Pryde of the X-Men”, too. That, however, is a flashback for another Friday.Wanna check this episode out for yourself?